There is no superman!

The role of the spouse in the fire service

CarolinaFireJournal - By Peggy Sweeney
By Peggy Sweeney
04/24/2015 -

Over the years, I have been very fortunate to not only instruct firefighters, but many of their wives or partners as well. When I would ask them for comments, questions, or feedback, I usually got little or no response. Understandably because spouses are very reluctant to talk in front of their firefighters about their feelings, their fears, or what is in their hearts. Many spouses wonder why the warm, loving, and carefree person they married does not come home like that anymore.


I will tell you that I know what many of you fear: that your spouse or partner may be struggling mentally and emotionally with the traumas of his or her job. You realize that what they see, hear, taste, and feel on a recurring basis is beginning to play a major role in how they view life, living, and their job. When the call goes well, life is good! When their best efforts to save a life or protect property from ruin do not end positively, it is a BAD DAY!

Some of you may have even witnessed THE CHANGE. The super heroes do not always return home with their superman costume intact. It’s tattered and torn. They try to make light of their day, but you can see the hurt. You reach out to give a welcome home hug and they pull away. They may be withdrawn and bad-tempered. Often, they find comfort in alcohol rather than family. The jovial personality is almost nonexistent. Have I begun to paint a picture of your relationship?

Becoming a firefighter, in my opinion, is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your community. It takes a very special person to take on the responsibilities to protect and serve. Many of you have seen the brotherhood that is fire service: a special bond that is not taken lightly. What many people fail to remember, because of their seemingly herculean rescues, is that this larger-than-life person is human. There are no super powers. There is no invisible life-protecting armor that guarantees that they will return home unscathed — mentally, emotionally, or physically — from their duties. They are vulnerable to addictions, mental illness — including depression — post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and, in some instances, violent behavior. Their department may not offer emotional support or training for coping with these issues. You, as his or her partner, are NOT the fairy godmother or Merlin the magician who waves the magic wand and makes their life better. There is no magic that can erase what they are thinking or feeling.

The good news is that there are steps that you can take to help yourself, your partner and your family:

  • Step One: Take care of you. Eat right, get exercise, and make time every day for yourself and your family. You must keep a positive attitude!
  • Step Two: Heart to heart. If you have concerns about your spouse/partner’s mental or emotional state, sit down together and lay out your fears and concerns. Most people squirm in their seats when you get close to touching their feelings and emotions. That’s OK. Hang in there. Your actions will reassure them that you care.
  • Step Three: Get Physical. Strongly encourage them to have a thorough physical as well as meeting with a mental health professional; preferably, a professional who understands the culture of the fire service. Firefighters, in general, are very reluctant to seek any form of counseling. They are fearful that they will be perceived as weak or, worse yet, will lose their job. Keep in mind that not all mental health professionals are equipped to treat a first responder. It may take several visits with different therapists to find the “right fit.” But don’t give up!
  • Step Four: Get educated. If you do nothing else today, check out these two websites that offer valuable information. Don’t skim – read everything! Share this information with your spouse or print out the important things if they are not computer friendly.

Grieving Behind the Badge blog Read every article, especially those under the headings: Addiction, Post Traumatic Stress, and Suicide: Let’s Talk It. Subscribe to the newsletter!

Station House Retreat []. A treatment facility exclusively for first responders coping with addiction.

Firefighter Wives Network

Firefighter PTSD . A closed group for firefighters with PTSD as well as spouses who are looking for help.

There is no Superman in your home. Superman only lives on the big screen and in the minds of children. If you remove this facade you will see the real duties they perform as a firefighter. You are not alone in your struggles to help with their daily traumas. Do your homework and use the information made available here. Study it and share everything with your spouse. If you have questions please feel free to contact me.

Copyright Peggy Sweeney. All rights reserved.

Peggy Sweeney is co-founder and Outreach Coordinator for Station House Retreat. She has developed and taught countless workshops on coping with grief and traumatic stress including the Grieving Behind the Badge program for emergency response professionals and their families. Sweeney has written numerous award-winning articles and is the editor of the Grieving Behind the Badge blog. She is a mortician and bereavement educator, a member of the Comfort (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department, and a former EMT-B. For more info, call 830-377-7389 or email [email protected].
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